The Supreme Court today recommended that Governor Jerry Brown pardon former State Senator Roderick Wright, but a public interest organization is asking the court to open up the records it reviewed in making that recommendation. Clemency recommendations are made at the Governor’s request because they are constitutional prerequisites to certain pardons and sentence commutations, and the court reviews the requests under a deferential standard of review. (See here.)
The court has approved many recommendation requests lately (see, e.g., here and here), including several today besides the one for Wright. The court’s public docket for each request includes the text of a letter sent by the Governor’s legal affairs secretary Peter Krause (who was recently appointed to the Court of Appeal), a letter that summarizes the Governor’s reasons for granting clemency.
Besides the summary letter, however, the Governor’s office typically sends to the court other documents that are not made public. In Wright’s case, for example, the court received his pardon application, the Board of Parole Hearings recommendation, the pardon investigation report, and letters of support and opposition.
The First Amendment Coalition today filed a motion in Wright’s case to unseal clemency related court records. The motion asks not only for Wright’s records, but also “to allow access to any other pending clemency requests, records, and related materials . . . currently filed under seal . . . and, prospectively, all future Clemency Materials.” In a statement, the organization’s executive director says, “This long-standing, flawed practice of immediately sealing records of this kind amounts to a sort of ‘secret docket’ at the state’s highest court.”
There does not appear to be any deadline for the court to act on the motion.